November 30, 2011

Occupy Maine maps out plan for 6-month stay

The petition filed Tuesday could allow protesters to stay in Portland's Lincoln Park for six months.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Occupy Maine met its deadline Tuesday for filing a petition with the city that could allow protesters to remain in Lincoln Park for six months.

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Occupy Maine participants Robert LaGrange, left, and Ray Woodburn Jr. talk about the group's decision to seek a permit to continue its encampment in Lincoln Park in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Attorney John Branson says Occupy Maine decided not to limit the number of tents but would comply with a code provision about the distance between tents.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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The petition, hand-delivered to City Hall late Tuesday afternoon, addresses a range of issues affecting the encampment and its occupants.

It map outs where protesters' tents could be in Lincoln Park; articulates the group's mission and its desire to erect a communal warming teepee; requests that Lincoln Park be designated a 24-hour free speech zone, and even proposes that the city try to make the park more welcoming by hanging holiday lights from its trees.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee will consider Occupy Maine's petition Thursday night before making a recommendation to the council. A public hearing and the final decision on the petition are scheduled for Dec. 7.

"We really appreciate the humanity the city of Portland has shown us, compared to other cities in the world. It makes me proud of our city," said Heather Curtis of Portland, an Occupy Maine member who spoke to reporters during a press conference at City Hall.

Nicole Clegg, the city's spokeswoman, responded Tuesday night by saying that city officials will reserve judgment on Occupy Maine's request until they have had time to review it.

Occupy Maine started its demonstration in Monument Square in early October, and at the city's request moved to Lincoln Park. As the weeks wore on, the encampment grew to encompass most of the park between Congress, Pearl, Federal and Franklin streets.

A series of arrests and incidents of violence prompted city officials to conduct a walk-through inspection Nov. 17. Several code violations were cited.

"The code violations and increasing demand on the services of the Portland Police Department are stretching the ability and willingness of the city to continue to accomodate and allow your clients' occupancy in the park," city attorney Gary Wood said in a letter to Occupy Maine dated Nov. 18.

That letter prompted a meeting with city officials at which Occupy Maine said it would seek approval from members to apply for a permit. City officials told Occupy Maine to submit a proposal by Tuesday, in advance of the Public Safety Committee's meeting.

Curtis praised the city for its tolerance and its patience with the protesters. "Other cities are speaking with tear gas and pepper spray," she said. "Our city is speaking with paper (the permit)."

John Branson, a Portland attorney, helped craft Occupy Maine's petition, which would be effective for six months if approved by the city.

He said that, for the first time in writing, the group says it is "seeking redress of grievances arising from the vast inequality of wealth and income in the United States and through the world; a thoroughly corrupt and unjust financial, economic and political system; and the corporate takeover of our public spaces and our once Democratic government at the national, state and local levels."

Branson said Occupy Maine wants permission from the city to operate a communal warming tent or teepee, in which it would burn wood or pellets in a stove.

The group proposes moving all of its tents from the side of the park closest to Franklin Street toward Pearl Street. Branson said the group decided not to limit the number of tents or occupants, saying only that it would comply with a fire code provision that requires tents to be at least 10 feet apart.

Occupy Maine is developing a social compact that articulates expected standards of behavior for people living at the encampment. Branson said that compact won't be finalized for at least a few more days.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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